I was seven or eight when they came in the mail: those pale pink, five-sizes-too-big, high-heeled sandals. My father’s sister in Texas found them at a garage sale for fifty cents and guessed her niece would love them.
Love them I did. My mom would tie the long pink straps around my ankles, criss-crossing them up and down my leg. Then I clomped around the basement in them, strutting up and down imaginary aisles of desks, playing Mrs. Marciolonus—my teacher with the amazing shoes and impeccably manicured toenails.
One afternoon, as a thunderstorm threatened, I wore them and played Rock Star in the garage and on the driveway. I waved to throngs of screaming fans, singing songs of my own creation. The rain began to tease the ground with big intermittent plops. I kicked off the shoes and ran inside before disaster could strike.
After the rain subsided, my father backed his 1971 Ford Bronco out of the garage. As he did, there was a sickening crunch. He trudged back into the house carrying the terrible carnage of my beautiful pink shoes. They were broken beyond all repair.
My father was a quiet and shy man with two older sons. A crying daughter rendered him helpless. His only recourse? Offer to replace her shoes, of course. As though shoes that gorgeous come around more than once in a lifetime.
That weekend, my father drove me to a discount women’s shoe store. They were having a dot sale; everything with a green dot was $5, yellow meant $10, and red meant $15. I found a pair of black peep-toe pumps imprinted with a faux reptilian pattern. They fit me perfectly. And there, on the bottom of the sole, was a green sticker.
We returned home, triumphant. The shoes added an edge to my basement adventures. As a teacher, I was a little stricter. As a singing sensation, I was a little more rock and roll.
Like most things from childhood, I outgrew the heels my dad bought me. I imagine they’re still in that basement, rambling around with long-lost BBs and Barbie’s old Jeep. Perhaps they’re sitting patiently next to the school desk, waiting for class to be back in session.
Decades later, in the clearance section of DSW, I found a pair of pink strappy sandals. Of course they weren’t the same; how could they be? But the shade of pink, the way they circled my ankle and buckled on the side, the dainty heel–all evoked the shoes my dad destroyed. They made me feel like a lady and that girl playing Rock Star, all at once. I turned over the shoe to find the clearance sticker on the sole; it was green.
A year later, I unpacked the shoes from my suitcase, along with a black dress and a string of pearls. I hung the dress in the bathroom of my parents’ house while I took a shower. I got dressed. Carefully, reverentially, I put on my pink strappy heels. I walked down the hall to my parents’ bedroom and knocked softly. “Mom, you ready?”
Later that night, we stood awkwardly in a room of the funeral home, as friends and family came to pay their respects to my dad. I had cried more than I thought possible in the last two weeks. You know how your body is made of 75% water? I was down to 20%, easy. For these people, it felt like there were no tears left.
There was only me and a pair of pink strappy shoes.